We recently had the pleasure of visiting *Branson, Missouri where we learned that a huge revitalization effort has begun. If you are like us, that will be music to your ears. With it’s proximity to Stillwater, Oklahoma, Branson is an easy half-day-trip, so we’ve visited Branson many times through the years. While we always enjoyed exploring Branson, the traffic and effort involved to travel from attraction to attraction and venue to venue can be a nightmare.
Branson began its life as a small Ozark Mountain town and the entertainment venues and attractions grew up haphazardly along the two lane road that was HWY 76, contributing to the intense traffic that visitors experience when traveling there. In 2011, the City’s leaders began thinking about what could be done to alleviate those conditions. In the wake of the February 29, 2012 tornado that impacted 35% of the businesses along the HWY 76 corridor, leadership moved forward with efforts to create a Master Plan that prioritized improving the area’s tourism activities, beginning with its infrastructure. The Master Plan was approved in September 2014 and work began this past summer of 2016.
On our tour of Branson, we learned about the massive effort underway to remove power poles, bury utilities, add and improve sidewalks, and make other changes that will enhance the visitor experience throughout downtown Branson and the five-mile Entertainment District along the Highway 76 corridor. The City of Branson is moving forward with a Master Plan that will create a vibrant, attractive, and efficient central corridor that will benefit businesses and increase visitor stay-time and return trips.
When complete, the overall visitor experience will greatly improve. The Master Plan is designed to assure that the area can continue to grow, change, and be sustained going forward into the future. It will remove clutter (ie. utility poles) that detracts from the visitor experience, improve travel along the corridor, and maximize the use of limited space in this jam-packed entertainment mecca of the Midwest.
Some of the planned enhancements include improvements that will accommodate different types of transportation beyond private automobiles, including pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation such as a trolley system. The improvements will also include an Intelligent Transportation System to help drivers’ access alternate routes and simplify travel for those visiting destinations not located along the corridor. The plan will reduce curb cuts and driveways on HWY 76 with better utilized entries, exits, and parking areas. Furthermore the traffic and crosswalk lights will be synchronized to improve the flow of traffic.
Currently it is difficult to walk from attraction to attraction along West HWY 76. In the few areas where sidewalks exist, they are narrow with frequent and wide curb cuts for driveway entries. Greenspace is rare and gathering points are few and far between. The Master Plan will remedy all of this and encourage pedestrian traffic along the corridor with fun, interactive elements that encourage visitors to “play” along the way. The goal is to make the entire area a safe, enjoyable destination where people walk, meet, and gather while enjoying the uniquely “Branson” sights and sounds found there.
Construction officially began in early summer 2016 with the first phase of the project. The plan is projected to be completed within eight years. The estimated cost for the full five-mile revitalization is $80-$100 million. $20 Million of this is allocated for burying the utilities.
New development projects have already been planned for the area and will open in the coming months. These projects were made possible in part by the planned revitalization. For example:
- The Branson Ferris Wheel (which recently hosted a record number of Santa Clauses).
- Ballparks of America, which will have five ball parks which will be capable of hosting large tournaments. This facility will also feature dorms for the players to stay in.
- Fritz’s Adventure, an indoor family adventure park featuring 80,000 square feet of space for activities including climbing walls, ropes course, and a full service restaurant.
- Big Foot on the Strip.
The revitalization of HWY 76 is expected to be a catalyst for an additional 2.15 million square feet of development along the entertainment corridor over the next 20 years. Additionally, the project is expected to increase sales by $1.4 billion over the next 20 years, attracting more visitors to the corridor and increasing the total market value of the property in the entertainment district by $181 million. That means that Branson is going to continue to get bigger and better as a destination for family-friendly entertainment.
We can’t wait to see what happens next in Branson.
Keep an eye out for additional coverage of our visit to Branson in the coming days. There is a lot to see and do and what we experienced was just a drop in the bucket. We can’t wait to go back to see the improvements and experience the latest additions to the district as a family. (We’re looking at you Fritz’s Adventure!)
*Disclosure statement: Our visit to Branson, MO was made at the invitation of the Branson, MO Visitors Bureau as part of a familiarization trip. Our accommodations, admission tickets, and meals were complimentary in return for sharing our experience with our readers. The views and opinions expressed are purely our own. Any product claim, statistic, quote, or other representation about a destination, attraction, venue, or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider, or party in question.